Sunday January 15, 2017
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Turner
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
"Look for stars and mountains!"
-The glory of God made manifest.
From the earliest of days the feast of the Epiphany has been marked by three wonderful stories that speak to us of the revelation or manifestation of God’s glory which is the very meaning of the word “epiphany.”
We have heard the story of the wise men, the magi, searching for the King of the Jews. They followed a star but they were lured away from it when they assumed that Jerusalem would be the place where Christ would be born. It’s rather like trying to see the stars in the night sky here in Manhattan; with so much light pollution from so many building it is hard to see the stars. It was only after the magi had left King Herod, his palace, and all that he had to dazzle and impress, that they saw the star again, only brighter than ever; they needed to leave the security of Herod’s Royal Palace in order to reach their goal.
In the story of the baptism of Jesus we may well ask, “Why did Jesus need to be baptized? Was he not sinless?” The incarnation is about the humility of God – ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ St Paul, writing to the Philippians, tells us that Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)
The story of the visit of the Magi points to this passage of St Paul. Jesus is born homeless and as a refugee; wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger for there was no room for him in the inn. The wise men brought their gifts – of gold for a king, and frankincense for a God but, as St Paul reminds us, “Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.” Thus, the third gift of the wise men is the most poignant – myrrh – for the burial of the dead: “for being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
Thus Jesus humbled himself yet again by his baptism in the Jordan; John tried to resist but Jesus insisted because he was “taking the form of a slave…and humbled himself.” And paradoxically, in humbling himself Jesus revealed his true nature as God and Man, for the heavens were opened and the Father witnessed to the presence of the Son, and those in the water saw the Spirit, as a dove, descend on him in bodily form. The mystery of the Trinity was revealed - heaven and earth were united in a loving embrace. Just as the creative Word of God had spoken at the beginning of creation, and the spirit hovered over the waters, so Christ consecrated the waters of baptism by which his followers – including you and me - would become united in him.
Our third story, the wedding at Cana in Galilee, also revealed the glory of Jesus, God’s Son. But it was also a glimpse of the glory that was to come; the glorification of the cross; the glory of the resurrection; the glory of the ascension; the glory that Jesus had in the beginning with the Father and for which he prayed in the upper room to have again, only, this time, revealed to the disciples whom he now called his friends: “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you…I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.”
After an epiphany, things can never be the same again; an epiphany is about glory revealed, but in this case, a glory revealed through humility and sacrifice. After experiencing an epiphany things can never be the same; the visit to Bethlehem changed the wise men; the Baptism of Jesus changed John the Baptist; the wedding at Cana in Galilee changed the disciples; their relationship with God changed but, more significantly, their relationship with those around them changed also.
So this epiphany challenges us to discover the glory of Jesus in our broken world and point to his presence through acts of humble service to our brothers and sisters:We are called to search for Jesus Christ, but it is so easy for us to be distracted and to be lured by worldly things; in a world that seems gripped with fear and despondency, it is easy for us to be discouraged and to lose hope – to lose sight of the star. When that happens we need to encourage one another. Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Next year it will be fifty years since his assassination. His commitment to freedom and justice came from his commitment to Jesus Christ; from his understanding of the Epiphany – of God manifested in Jesus. At times he was discouraged and even fearful, but I find it extraordinary that the night before he was assassinated, he told his hearers that he was not worried and in fact, he was happy for he had “been to the mountaintop.” Why is that so significant? Because in the bible, there are many theophanies or epiphanieson mountaintops: On the mountaintop, Moses met God in the burning bush; on the mountaintop, Moses and Joshua and the leaders of Israel beheld God and they ate and drank; on the mountaintop, Peter, James and John beheld Jesus transfigured; on the mountain top, Jesus prayed for forgiveness as he died on a cross; on the mountaintop, the resurrected Jesus told his friends to make disciples of all the nations. Mountaintops are places where epiphanies can happen. My dear friends, where are your mountaintop experiences where you discover the transforming love of Jesus Christ, who takes away fear and transfigures your lives? Where we all discover the epiphany of God afresh; as we sang in that wonderful hymn:
Grant us grace to see thee, Lord,
Mirrored in thy holy word;
May we imitate thee now,
And be pure, as pure art thou;
That we like to thee may be
At thy great epiphany;
And may praise thee, ever blest,
God in man made manifest. (words by Christopher Wordsworth, 1807-1885)
When we celebrate the Epiphany, we celebrate the manifestation of Christ’s glory to the whole world, and the transformation of that world from a place of darkness to a place where God’s light can shine brightly; a place where we can live in hope.